Denny Kouri of Mater Dei attempts a spike against JSerra on Tuesday. .

Mater Dei sweeps JSerra with fun, fresh approach


Last year was a disappointing one for the Mater Dei boys volleyball program.

The Monarchs went 2-8 in the Trinity League and failed to make the CIF-SS playoffs. That disappointment has given way to optimism this season.

Led by a roster comprised of predominantly underclassmen, Mater Dei has become a force again in the Trinity League, sweeping host JSerra, 25-12, 25-21, 25-22, on Tuesday night.

“It was a tough year,” Monarchs sophomore setter Garrett Zolg said of last season. “I was a freshman. I came in and started on a team with all seniors. It was kind of a role where I had to play and let the seniors be leaders.

“This year, this is my team. We have a lot of youth on this team, but that’s not holding us back. We have young guys that are excited to play and are having a real fun time.”

Aside from trailing, 9-8, in the second set, the Monarchs (12-8, 4-2) were in control for most of the match. They won the first meeting against the Lions (14-11, 2-4) in five sets.

“When we come and play loose and have fun, we’re a team to watch out for,” Zolg said. “We had consistency in all phases of the game - offense, defense, serving - tonight.”

Denny Kouri led the Monarchs with 10 kills. Daniel Nguyen and Joe Brown added nine and eight, respectively.

“We had quite a few sophomores and freshmen on the roster last year, and now they’ve grown up and (are) maturing a little bit,” said Mater Dei coach Pat Connolly, who also credits the team’s turnaround to a change in approach.

“We changed the offense a little bit,” he added. “It is a lot more quick paced. That fits our skill set because we’re a short team, and we definitely have to run a faster style of play.

“We’re fortunate to have a kid like this (Zolg) that’s capable of running that type of offense.”

In the Sunset League:

Newport Harbor 3, No. 5 Los Alamitos 1: The Sailors beat the visiting Griffins, 25-9, 21-25, 29-27, 25-19, behind 21 aces from Cole Pender.

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